As Tamil Nadu assembly polls draw closer, the promises made by the ruling AIADMK government and the opposition DMK have prompted voters to look for a party that can offer them more tangible welfare measures rather than only a populist fare.
Both Dravidian parties have focused on populism on a scale unprecedented in the electoral history – you name it, and they have delivered it — TV sets, mixer & grinders, laptops for students, rice for a rupee and even goats. Such steps have indeed helped the ordinary and poor people to create private assets.
However, the recent promises made by Chief Minister Edappadi K Palaniswami are mostly centered on collective benefits. The announcements range from withdrawal of cases, loan waivers and new schemes. The cases include the ones filed against government employees, pro-Jallikkattu protestors, anti-Kudankulam nuclear power plant protestors, anti-CAA protestors and violators during the COVID-induced lockdown.
The loan waivers include those on cooperative borrowings worth ₹ 12,000 crore, waiving of jewelery loans by farmers up to six sovereigns and waiver of loans by women self-help groups.
The new announcements includes providing round-the-clock free power supply to farmers, inaugurating new river linking schemes and increasing the retirement age of government employees from 59 to 60 years.
Besides, announcements such as promoting the students of Classes 9, 10 and 11 without conducting exams and 10.5 per cent reservation to Vanniyars were made in the last minute.
Significantly, Opposition leader MK Stalin had promised some of these announcements. So, when EPS announced implementing them, it was seen as hijacking the DMK’s momentum.
“This is a step to garner the votes of a particular section. For example, by withdrawing cases, EPS is trying to woo government employees. EPS has chosen to satisfy a cluster of workforce,” says Senthil Arumugam, general secretary, Satta Panchayat Iyakkam.
“One thing surprising; loans waivers were announced by former CMs Karunanidhi (in 2006) and Jayalalithaa (in 2016) only when they came to power. EPS is doing all this apparently at the instance of election strategists,” says Arumugam.
It is claimed that the crop loan waivers are going to play a bigger role in wooing the farmers in the delta districts, a traditionally DMKs stronghold. Though the government has allocated ₹ 11,982 crore for agriculture in the interim budget, a half of it has gone to the crop loan waiver.
“Such a waiver is set to benefit 16 lakh farmers. At the same time, cooperative societies will be given only ₹ 5,000 crore. It will cripple them. The cooperative society business can run only if the government pays full amount to the societies,” says P Shanmugam, president, Tamil Nadu Farmers Association.
He stressed that the crop loan waiving needs a CB-CID investigation. “It is interesting that a large amount of crop loan has been waived in Salem, the native district of EPS. In that district alone, about ₹ 1,300 crore loan has been waived. But in Kumbakonam Central Cooperative Bank, which caters to four delta districts such as Thanjavur, Tiruvarur, Nagappattinam and Mayiladuthurai, the collective waiver is worth about ₹ 600 crore. These are the areas totally dependent on agriculture,” said Shanmugam.
Similarly, a farmer is eligible for a short-term loan of up to ₹ 1 lakh. In the case of jewel loans, the ceiling is ₹ 1.60 lakh. But in Thoothukkudi district, one AIADMK farmer got a loan worth ₹ 31 lakh waived. Such cases give an impression of corruption,” he added.
“These announcements are made only for political mileage. The AIADMK won’t take any responsibility and all those promises would become empty announcements,” said economist J Jeyaranjan.
“There is no fiscal space left in the budget. The AIADMK has realized that it doesn’t have any place in the political game. The unrealistic announcements are a reflection of that,” he added.
Jeyaranjan says earlier the Dravidian parties had a well thought out plan to implement populist schemes. “But this government has made free-for-all announcements. They have got about ₹ 1 lakh crore borrowings in the last one year. Most of such money is swindled in the face of empty announcements,” says Jeyaranjan.
“Even in this pandemic time, allocation for the health department has just doubled. The allocation to highways department has gone up 10 times over,” he said. The cutting down of social sector expenditures will cost them more, he added.
“The current government believes it can withdraw a particular scheme any time and replace it with other,” Jeyaranjan said.